Located 40km South East of Ceduna, Smoky Bay is an ample location for relaxing and winding down on the weekend. With plenty of oysters, fishing spots and a caravan park to house tourists and grey nomads in the summer, the Bay is a blissful treat on the Western side of South Australia.
Oyster farming, the vines of the sea
On our trip to Smoky Bay we were lucky enough to be given a tour of the oyster growing facility and we helped with oyster racking at Zippels Oysters; a family run business located 2km inland from the Bay. The oyster racks pictured above are generally how oysters are grown within the protected and shallow waters of Smoky, the others being the adjustable long-line system and deep-sea harvesting.
An oyster is an invertebrate and a bivalve carnivore that uses an inductor muscle to open and close its shell in the water. Inside the white-dark grey (and quite difficult to crank open) shell, lies a salty-rich plump body; the oyster.
The oysters in the cages (pictured above) rely on the shallow waters of Smoky and the tide to keep them fed in the water. When they are above the water, they dry out the pests and barnacles that may have attached themselves to their shells.
Tides are incredibly important to oyster growing and an oyster business operates around when the tide comes in and out. On the afternoon that we visited Zippels, the tide was levelling down – an opportune time to place more racks of the oysters.
Another way to grow oysters in shallow waters is the adjustable long-line system. This system still works with the tide but uses cages, clips and a long line to move the oysters in and out of the water. Deep sea oysters are also grown in Smoky, with the farm located a few kilometres North West of the jetty.
Considered the “filter of the sea” an oyster regularly opens and closes its shell to “eat” bits of algae and other ocean nutrients that flows past its cage. The location of Smoky Bay is said to be a considerable factor in the taste of its produce; a protected cove that still has enough nutrients in the water to keep the oysters plump and healthy.
A number of other factors influence whether an oyster is going to be big, tasty and overall delicious. Bruce Zippel, who has co-owned the business with his two brothers for a number of years, said oyster growing is a balancing act.
The right nutrients, location, whether the oysters are angled towards or away from the flow of the current, the amount of oysters in one area and pulling the oysters in and out of the water all influences how an oyster grows.
The oysters that are grown in Smoky Bay are Pacific Oysters (Crassostrea gigas) and are found in locations like Japan, China and Australia. The oysters change their gender at least once in their lifetime and reproduce in warm waters by broadcast spawning, and for the oyster to be considered “edible” in size, it generally takes about two years.
In recent years, towns like Smoky Bay and Cowell (located on the Eastern part of the Eyre Peninsula) have been producing phenomenal oysters for the plate. Almost ahead of their counterparts in Coffin Bay, who still have their name on the board of most restaurants due to brand recognition and a long-established oyster growing industry in Coffin Bay, Smoky Bay produces quality oysters for wholesalers and the public.
“(Coffin Bay) built up their reputation a number of years ago, but now I think towns like (Smoky Bay) and Cowell are really getting up there,” co-owner of Zippels Oysters Bruce Zippel said.
The oyster can be eaten straight from the sea (natural) or paired with a variety of ingredients to accompany the salty taste. Here is a list we tried and thoroughly enjoyed;
10g of cheese & a hint of garlic
a sprinkle of feta cheese with garlic and lemon
a dash of lemon and cracked pepper
sweet chilli sauce and cracked pepper
cubed bacon with Worcestershire & BBQ Sauce
“What you’ve got to look for in an oyster is the creaminess of the shell and how plump the body is. Generally a rounder sort of shell that’s quite fat and plump will be a good one,” he said.
Meeting the “locals”
To wrap up the few days in Smoky, we decided to have a go at fishing off the renovated jetty in the Bay. Overlooking the water over towards Eyre Island, the jetty is an ample spot to fish for squid, trevally (pictured above) and a number of other species.
Though the town is located a bit of a drive from Adelaide, the secluded beach spot is perfect for a family holiday or a weekend away. A swimming enclosure is another bonus, with a pontoon setup in the summer months for kids to jump off and enjoy the ocean.
Further North West of Smoky Bay’s beach are cliffs with smaller beaches that provide an opportunity to explore and see nature at its finest. There are also plenty of local pelicans along the beach that hang around to catch a feed when they can from the offal from fisherman’s buckets.
So if you’re looking to try some oysters, have a fish and explore around the Western coast of the Eyre Peninsula, Smoky Bay is worth a look.